Model as Muse: Revealing Guy Bourdin through Nicolle Meyer
Guy Bourdin is back. With his largest retrospective ever Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at the Somerset House in London, this convention breaking fine art avant-garde fashion photographer god is making a come back. And as all the world goes gaga for Guy once again, we sought to dig up the real Guy Bourdin with our latest review Unveiling Guy Bourdin. One of the most striking and troubling questions with which one is faced while looking at Bourdin’s images is who is the she?…the woman lying on the floor with a pool of red blood-nail lacquer spilling from her nose? What is she thinking? …the girl with her legs distorted, her head cut off by the edge of the shot. Her name is Nicolle Meyer. She is the muse of Guy Bourdin.
The role of the muse should not be underestimated when taking the work of a creative into consideration. She is what inspires his vision and informs the shoot. And for a photographer with as meticulous and perfection seeking an approach as Bourdin’s, Nicolle Meyer may just be one of his closest collaborators.
She was just seventeen, a former dancer, and a novice model when she met Guy, and her woman-child bordering look is what first enchanted Bourdin, a week later she was booked for Vogue Paris and not long after that, she became the body connected to the artfully scandalous pair of legs that frequented Bourdin’s shoe campaigns for Charles Jourdan. Bourdin had a notoriously complicated reputation when it came to his models, pushing them to the edge of risqué and beyond. His work was groundbreaking, and the process with which he achieved his perfectionist vision, has marked his reputation long after his death.
We met up with Nicolle to find out about the mysterious muse behind one of the most fascinating, darkly elusive and profoundly influential fashion photographers who ever lived.
“I think he liked the child-woman I represented. I was seventeen. No affectations or acquired attitudes, not yet a real woman. I was a free spirit and up for most anything, this afforded him the freedom to try out whatever he had in mind.”–Nicolle Meyer
ABOUT NICOLLE MEYER
CM: Where are you from?
Nicole Meyer: I was born in Los Angeles to an American mom and a French father.
CM: How did you begin modelling?
Nicolle: I had started to do runway shows in Japan and the person in charge advised me to try my luck with editorial work upon my return to Paris—my family had moved there in 1972. I joined a small modelling agency and they had the great insight—after I had done a few test shots-- to send me immediately on a go-see to Guy Bourdin’s studio. I had been training as a dancer since the age of 9, was at the Conservatory for Music & Dance in Paris, as well as taking daily classes at Salle Pleyel, where by chance I went for an audition which brought me to the runway shows in Japan…
CM: For how long have you been modelling?
NM: I modeled for about 4 years—in the late 70s. Currently I have done a few shoots.
CM: What and who are your greatest inspirations in the world of fashion?
NM: I would have to say Guy Bourdin! Today, I am a big fan of Phoebe Philo, Alber Elbaz, Juergen Teller… if one could turn back the clock I would have loved to have posed for Man Ray & Jacques-Henri Lartigues.
CM: How did you meet him?
NM: I met Guy Bourdin on a go-see at his studio in the Marais district of Paris. I was not aware of his
status as a photographer. He was very sweet, really took his time to look at my few test shots, then asked
to see my identity card. At the time I thought he was looking at my photo, it was only until much later that
I learned he was a very superstitious man and was looking at my date of birth. My zodiac sign obviously
was the right one and that same week I was booked to pose for him for Vogue Paris.
CM: What did he love about you ?
I think he liked the child-woman I represented. I was seventeen. No affectations or acquired
attitudes, not yet a real woman. I was a free spirit and up for most anything, this afforded him the
freedom to try out whatever he had in mind. I loved working with him, being part of the whole
process, the ritual of preparation, the glamour and fun, it was liberating and made me a willing
subject. I guess that was a potent combination and led to a prolific three years.
CM: What is the role of a muse?
NM: I wasn’t aware that I was his muse at the time. I think the most important for an artist is creative freedom. I did not set any boundaries but neither did Guy ever ask me to do something I was not in accordance with. There was mutual respect and I was very happy to pose for him.
CM: Did you ever get involved in the creative process on the Charles Jourdan’s shoots?
NM: No. As far as styling for the Charles Jourdan campaigns that was the domain of makeup artist Heidi Morawetz. The set designs were built according to Guy’s specifications, but when it came to the actual shoot, then yes, sometimes you have a certain idea of how to pose and the shoot develops from there but on the whole, Guy had very precise images in mind.
CM: Did he direct you–the models–or did he leave you improvise?
NM: Guy was much like a film director, he instructed you but also let you improvise within the frame of his idea. Certain images required specific sets and scenarios. One has to keep in mind that this was a pre-digital era and numerous ideas demanded a lot of preparation, hence Guy thought them out in detail. He was a perfectionist--there was no touching up of an image once it was taken. Often on exterior shoots there was more room for interpretation, they tended to be more spontaneous.
CM: How did Guy Bourdin prepare for his shoots ? did he sketch them and shared them with you ? How did you understand his futuristic vision?
NM: Guy was a fountain of ideas. He always carried a sketch book with him where he jotted or drew the images he had in mind. Sometimes I was shown a sketch, but more then often he would talk them over with his assistants, the hair and make-up team. I had confidence in Guy even if I wasn’t sure what the outcome of a shoot would be. I was always aware that we were doing something special, very different from my other modelling jobs.
CM: What were your most inspiring moments with Guy Bourdin?
NM: I see my work and experience with Guy as a whole but a shot we did at Karl Lagerfeld’s chateau for Vogue Paris was particularly memorable. I had the feeling of partaking in a film the whole week, the atmosphere and the images he created were so magical. Another special time was a two-month road trip to the USA through the southern States with Guy, his partner Sybille and small team. Being with him on a daily basis, sightseeing, driving down endless highways, working along the way—that was an incredible experience. But then working in the studio was equally special, you were in a creative capsule with no notion of time.
CM: The most challenging moments?
NM: The spider legs for Charles Jourdan was a difficult image to shoot. Two other girls and myself had to hold a pose balancing on short boards protruding from the studio wall. I liked trying to be as dislocated as possible, squatting, stretching… it was challenging but that was part of the fun. I loved Guy’s ingenuity on how to achieve a certain effect.
CM: How long did you model for Guy Bourdin?
NM: I modeled for three years with Guy, 1977-1980.
CM: Guy Bourdin’s was a visionary and produced ground-breaking photography- how did your work together influence the world of art and fashion today?
NM: The current exhibit at Somerset House, Guy Bourdin: Image Maker, shows the scope, daring and innovativeness of his work. His influence on visual culture is undeniable and seems to be continuously gaining in momentum. Designers and photographers reference him; François Nars recently launched a Guy Bourdin inspired make-up line. I am proud to have worked so intensely with him and produced an important body of work within his oeuvre.
CM: Are you still modelling?
NM: A teeny bit. I recently shot a shoe campaign for a young designer friend, Charline de Luca.
CM: Which other photographers have you work with? Did you have a similar synergy?
NM: I worked with known photographers of the time, Paolo Roversi, Harri Peccinotti, Toscani, Peter Lindberg… I loved to model and was lucky to have been booked by great photographers but yes, my work with Guy was very particular, very different from any other modelling jobs. I also never worked by far with anyone as intensely as I have with Guy. This makes for a different understanding and synergy.
CM: Do you think the world of modelling has changed a lot since your work with Guy Bourdin?
NM: For sure, times have changed. Today, fashion is such a huge machine. It’s not to say there aren’t people today working and creating great images, but I think it must be much harder. There is also such a need for fame today, it feels often as if it takes the upper hand. With Guy it was all about the image.
CM: What is next for you ?
NM: I would love to model more regularly. A few years ago I shot with Thomas Zanon-Larcher in London, it was great to be in front of a camera again. It was not a typical fashion shoot—a small storybook was published, some of the images exhibited. I have done numerous things since my days with Guy…I have been a drummer-singer in a band in Germany for many years, published a book with Gerhard Steidl on my work with Guy. I work closely with the Bourdin estate, with fabulous Shelly Verthime and Samuel Bourdin. Most recently, I have a small winery in southern France. I love being connected to the earth and the vines, and of course I love the wine produced! I also have a small line of handbags and accessories that I design and produce in Mexico with local artisans. I keep busy.
CM: What advise would you give a young model or someone aspiring to model?
NM: Enjoy! Be yourself, that is what defines you from the next.
Photography copyright: Charles Jourdan © Guy Bourdin Courtesy A+C - British Vogue - Nicolle Meyer - Pentax calendar - Vogue Paris - AAC